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Thursday, February 14, 2013


A year ago, she was guest of first lady; a career update

Roger Chesley is a local columnist for the Virginian Pilot. He recounts what I imagine he considers a heartwarming story of a young local woman, Amber Morris, who got her 15 minutes of fame as the object of one of Barack Obama’s examples. She got to sit next to Michelle Obama during the 2012 State of The Union speech.

Last year, the White House invited Morris to the State of the Union. She had answered a question about the importance of an extra $40 in her paycheck. The money was the result of the payroll tax cut that was enacted in December 2010, extended early last year and recently phased out.

But her story tells us a lot more about the situation college graduates find themselves in as they learn what it’s like to live on Barack Obama’s America.

She’s a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and the Northeastern University law school. For a brief time after graduating law school she had a job in Boston at a nonprofit associated with Northeastern. She lost that job when the funding ran out. Here’s a little thing I learned reading Glenn Reynolds, a law professor, who has been writing about the higher education bubble for some time. Law schools often hire their graduates in positions like hers for a period of time after graduating just to be able to say that their graduates got jobs when they graduated. As she found out, they are not actually the early stages of a career, but a temporary position designed to make the law school’s job placement statistics look better.

Her next move was back home where she moved in with her parents, where she lives today. This graduate of VCU and Northeastern law school is today gainfully employed.

At Taste Unlimited, she's risen from entry-level assignments to a full-time position. The Oceanfront store has about 10 part-time employees. Morris now earns about $25,000 annually, receives medical and dental benefits and said she has "stability."

As to whether she has student loans to pay off, something that is very likely, Roger Chesley is silent.

It seems that Amber has seen the light. I have been to Taste Unlimited. The job she has in no way requires even a high school diploma, much less a law degree. What this country desperately need is people who can make things and fix things, skills she wishes she had.

So on Tuesday night, while baking a batch of cupcakes, she stayed tuned to Obama's annual address to Congress.

She said she was "fascinated" by the president's allusion to a practice in Germany, where high school graduates are ready to work in technical jobs, including computers and engineering. She also wondered whether more emphasis in high school should be put on vocational jobs like plumbing and carpentry.

"It's frowned upon," she said, "but it's a valid alternative route."

How does she view the job market locally?

"I think more people are willing to hire," Morris said. Employees who have left Taste Unlimited, for example, have been able to get new jobs quickly.

"There's still a little bit of fear in the job market... but it's getting a little bit easier," she added. "People are taking a little bit of a breath and starting to expand."
This little story is a teachable moment, one that has lessons for many kids and parents who are wondering what the future holds, but I failed to see a light go in in Roger Chesley’s head.

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